we need to talk about anger

I want to talk about anger. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind for a while now and one that I’ve discussed on this blog before. It’s a powerful emotion, but one that I think is poorly understood and managed in Western society. Right from when we’re young, various sources tell us that anger is bad. As children, if we became angry at home, most of us were sent for time-out. If we became angry at school, we were sent to detention. The oppression of anger has not helped us. In fact I think that many people in our society don’t know how to express their anger constructively, having huge consequences for their happiness and life satisfaction.

I have observed three common ways that people deal with anger, none of them helpful in the long-term. Some people suppress their anger and pretend that they’re not upset when in fact, secretly they are. These people tend to feel as though they are treated like doormats and everyone walks all over them. Other people express their anger through passive aggression- common passive aggressive behaviours are making a ‘joke’ at your expense in front of other people that expresses their frustration or leaving notes asking you to change some behaviour rather than approaching you about it in person. The third expression of anger I see around me is explosive anger. Sudden bursts of anger that usually involve yelling, but can involve name-calling, throwing things and physical violence.

More often than not, my expression of anger falls into the third category- explosive anger. It’s something I feel incredibly ashamed of. However like any layer of pain and shame, hiding it doesn’t help us to release it. I have spent a lot of time trying to not get angry. After losing my temper I set my best intention towards gradually reducing the frequency and severity of my outbursts. However like anyone who has a habit they’re trying to replace, sheer willpower alone is not enough. We are overwhelmingly creatures of habit and our willpower muscle has finite capabilities.

I have also tried to research anger, to understand what it is, and how and why it occurs. All the information I come across discusses alternatives to anger such as discussing feelings and the language with which we do so. In fact in my last post on anger, I discussed some of the language that has helped me express anger without hurting another.

However none of the literature I have read addresses the critical flash point moment where there is seemingly no time between the trigger and the emotional outburst. I am certain that the way we express or suppress our anger is habitual and therefore many of us need to create new habits in order to let go of the destructive anger habits of the present. I am also convinced that every habit we have comes from a need. So in order to create new habits we need to release the need that created the destructive habit in the first place.

To this end, I have started an experiment on myself. Can I release my need to express anger destructively and in doing so create a more harmonious life? I believe I can. The widely accepted time frame to create a new habit is 66 days. So that’s the amount of time I have given myself. There is a sheet of paper stuck to the fridge on which I have numbered 1 to 66. Today is day four. So far I’m going pretty well.

It’s early days yet but over the next 9 weeks I’ll be exploring different ways to release the need to express anger in a manner that is destructive to ourselves and others. I’ll also be looking to find out more about anger, what its role is and how we can learn to make peace with this particular emotion.

Stay tuned for more on this topic!

How do you express anger? Do you think anger helps you or sets you back in life? Please share your insights in the comments section below.